From education to employment

unionlearn director says Britain’s Got Talent…

lizsmith unionlearn

…But it’s not necessarily to be found on stage, in a TV studio or on the pages of the media.

No, Britain’s got a wealth of talent undiscovered in the workplace and in turbulent times, such as a recession, then organisations which recognise the turbulent times we live in make it all the more important to tighten our focus on developing the skills of the workforce.

Investing in learning and training now not only means staff will become more productive and better able to deliver a high quality service or product today but also enable companies, enterprises and organisations to prepare themselves for when the market picks up again. After all, the blunt truth is that companies which turn their back on training now are two and a half times more likely to fail than companies which invest in the development of their workforce.

That’s why it really pays off when employers, unions and union learning reps get together to build a thriving workplace learning culture. Having worked with many businesses to help them develop the talent, on their payroll, we know that the 22,000 fully-trained union learning reps now active right across the country have a vital role to play in successful learning partnerships.

And as many of those partnerships have discovered, learning isn’t simply about doing something to help staff feel valued (although it does do that): it can also make a tangible contribution to the bottom line by improving staff retention, reducing sickness absence, enhancing customer care, boosting productivity, and saving money from the agency/contractor budgets.

Learning is one of those genuine common causes between employers and unions. It doesn’t mean that our interests are always identical: for instance, we’re concerned that workers get training for life and not just for the task because if people do have to change jobs, when they have qualifications they’ve got proof of what they can do. Sometimes employers don’t always see it in the same way, but even if there are occasional differences, without doubt learning should be, and can be, a common cause, where the union can and does add value. And where we do work together, we know that these are the firms that are most likely to succeed.

How can a workplace learning partnership help companies plan for the upturn?

All our experience over the past ten years has shown that learning can thrive despite the tensions between companies and unions on other issues – and obviously there’s going to be more tension during a recession with all the pressure on budgets and so on. So learning can help keep the doors of communication open between employers and unions in the short term. But in the medium and longer term it can also help reduce absenteeism, improve customer care, enhance health and safety – all those business case benefits we know about.

For example, GMB members at JCB have played their part in helping the company survive the recession. Last year, staff voted for a shorter working week and thereby reduced redundancies by two-thirds.

"This is very positive because it means we retain the skills of a wider workforce who have contributed to the success this company has enjoyed over many years," commented JCB chief executive officer Matthew Taylor at the time.

Liz Smith is the director of unionlearn, which helps unions encourage lifelong learning among members


Read other FE News articles by Liz Smith:

Union learning boosted as training target is surpassed

unionlearn’s Liz Smith on Ofsted success

Make everyday World Book Day, says unionlearn director Liz Smith

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